Rams look to plug up Dolphins

Sunday, September 30, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams' rebuilt defense appears to have caught up with the offense.

Quarterback Kurt Warner is waiting for the best offense in the NFL the last two years to get started again. Despite scoring 30 points last week against the 49ers, he's far from satisfied, and rates his unit a C-plus or B-minus.

Two telling statistics: Kicker Jeff Wilkins, who had 17 field goals last year, already has five this season, and Warner is just fifth in NFC passer ratings.

"We've done a lot of good things, but we've hurt ourselves too much, and that's the big thing," Warner said. "We've made too many little mistakes.

"We've kicked more field goals than I would have liked."

Meanwhile, the defense that features eight new starters has more than held up its end.

A positive sign for the Rams is they've won their first two games on the road despite their problems, and they produced at vintage 1999-00 level in the second half against the 49ers. After numerous mistakes and penalties contributed to a 16-12 halftime deficit to San Francisco, St. Louis amassed 299 of its 424 yards the rest of the way.

It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Rams today against the stingy, ball control-oriented Miami Dolphins, who also are 2-0 and coming off playoff seasons. Miami didn't allow a touchdown and gave up only 216 yards in its home-opening 18-15 victory over Oakland last week.

Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener believes the Dolphins have the NFL's best defense.

"Just look at what we have -- speed, quickness, strength and size," Gardener said. "We've got it all. We just have to go out there week after week and play like we have the best defense."

Defensive end Jason Taylor also has that attitude, and he has only grudging respect for the Rams' offense.

"Are they unbeatable? No," Taylor said. "They bleed just like us. If they bleed, you can kill them.

"You hear all this talk about how good they are and can we get in their way and slow them down? Well, we have a good team, too."

Super Bowl preview?

The Rams entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite, and coach Mike Martz said the Dolphins might be the class of the AFC.

"If they're not on top, I'd like to see who is," Martz said. "It's got to be either them or Denver. In all three phases, they're very, very sound."

Both teams are coming off narrow escapes. The Rams killed the final 6:35 on the clock in their 30-26 victory over the 49ers, with Marshall Faulk playing a key role, and the Dolphins pulled out a dramatic 18-15 victory over the Raiders as Jay Fiedler scrambled for a 2-yard touchdown with 5 seconds left.

Faulk had seven carries and caught one pass in the first 10 plays of the final drive, and Fiedler was 5-for-5 and had two carries for 9 yards in Miami's winning possession.

Fielder knows he may have to step up the production this week.

"Whatever it takes to win, that's what it's going to be," he said. "Can we win a shootout? Sure. We might have to. Who knows?"

This will be the Rams' first home game since Dec. 10, 2000. The regularly scheduled home opener against Atlanta on Sept. 9 will be played Jan. 5.

The Rams are 16-3 at the Dome at America's Center the last two seasons, although they lost three in a row last November.

"It just seems like it's been forever since we've been in the dome, and I know our players are real excited about it," Martz said. "The place will be rocking for Miami.

"To have them here at this point, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere."

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